Thursday, November 24, 2011

What is an American Otaku?

It helps that we don't have this guy either...
I feel like this is something that needs to be explained. You see, there is a very big difference from what otaku are in America and what sort of connotations it holds in Japan. Originally it was a polite term meaning "your home," but the term has since picked up negative connotations. There is a stigma that accompanies that does not quite carry over into America, but then, we also have never had the "Otaku Killer" either.
Because no one wants to be this person.
Regardless of why, there also needs to be a distinction between otaku and weeaboo. For those unfamiliar with 4chan shenanigans, just know that weeaboo is not a good thing. It's a terrible thing. What you want to be is an otaku, someone who appreciates the culture and shows of Japan, and doesn't just think everything is ultra-super-kawaii-desu! Instead the otaku who appreciates makes an effort to learn the language, if they are so inclined, or otherwise leaves it alone. They may write an article on their favorite show, or blog about it (like this particular one does), they may even get into heated debates about whether or not something is possible. I once had a ten minute argument with someone, for instance, over the aerodynamics of a Berserk Fuhrer from Zoids and whether or not it was truly possible. It should be noted, that not all otaku like anime either, sometimes the word otaku can be applied, just like in Japan where it acts as "obsessive fan (often to the point of it being detrimental)," they all have their separate interests. So lets take a look at the different type of otaku, but not all at once. For now we'll just take a look at the anime type otaku.

Anime Otaku: A Brief Introduction
Anime found its way to America in a very interesting way. When most people think about early anime in the U.S. they think about Astroboy and Kimba, but what really set it off is a little ditty known as Robotech. You see, as the fans of these early shows matured so, too, did their tastes.  They were no longer satisfied with the terrible dubbing of Speed Racer and so the mech anime found its own little niche to fill. The first season of the show, based off Superdimensional Macross tears apart and redubs the entire work. A whole new script was adapted for the show, and it was a great success. One of the earliest science fiction anime to hit U.S. shores it completely remade what fans thought of anime, and brought in many new fans. Shows like Gundam, Voltron, and Star Blazers made their way into U.S. timeslots and were devoured by the enthralled geek, a mere five years after the first Star Wars film hit theatres. People were hungry for action and for sci-fi and anime provided exactly that.
Robotech: They just don't make classics like it anymore.
After the advent of these, which had already started to grow the otaku fanbase, a little known hit called Akira made its circle through bootlegs and art screenings to secure what became a future for the anime industry. Small company Pioneer set up its store front, licensing Tenchi Muoyo! for VHS and LD (that's Laser Disc for you younguns) and, though expensive, the company soon started to grow until it finally changed its name to Geneon Entertainment. Yes, that same Geneon that imploded several years ago as internet piracy slowly made its rounds. They produced a series that is now most famous world wide, and even bigger than Mickey Mouse in Japan: Neon Genesis Evangelion. But let's back up just a moment. There's another very important note in anime history that helped launch not just otaku, but the cyber-punk movement. That's right, if it weren't for the Japanese animation many people hate, there would be no cyber-punk. That means no Matrix, no dreams of virtual reality, and no dreams of cybernetic reality. Thanks to Ghost in the Shell, such ideas were secured, and nerds everywhere rejoiced, and not just because of the scantily clad Major Kusonagi. No, it was because it showed there was real thought going into anime in Japan, and Evangelion would later secure this fact. Albeit in a very different manner.
For every cross, a pouch of human Tang has just been opened.
So with all this history behind us, where does that leave the Peter Pan generation like myself (I wear my nostalgia goggles with pride)? Well, we came onto the anime scene at a very young age, and grew up with it along the way. Two that almost everyone in my generation remembers, whether otaku or not, is Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z. Boy or girl, whether you watched one, the other, or both, you knew what the deal was with these shows. Of course, the show that is most known and what I am truly an otaku (in the Japanese sense, its sad really) about is Pokemon. Yes, that loveable creature show where all Ash Ketchum wanted to do was catch them all. To this day I can tell you everything about the games, and almost everything about the show and manga too (again, I live a sad life). This show, the games, everything was huge in the nineties and as 4Kids realized the cash cow that it was they started to license more and more anime. Sadly, they all received the 4Kids treatment, and just for shiggles heres everything I can remember that wormed its way into my childhood. "Your childhood," you ask as I talk about the nineties, "Why, you were just talking about the eighties as if they were yesterday!" Yes, I was. I do my research and watch what these shows too. It's important to know your roots when you're living in an over saturated culture. Now then, here's the nostaligic list of import love:
Mew Mew Power

One Piece
Sonic the Hedgehog (
and Sonic X)
Shaman King
Magical Do-Re-Mi
Fighting Foodons
Ultimate Muscle

And every one of them I the time. Looking back there are those that still have their nostalgia value, and there are those that just make me shake my head in shame. There are also some that manage to be just as epic, despite that treatment. Of course, 4Kids was not the only company out there licensing anime for the ninties-naughts mind. Toonami enjoyed a long run, and even had a midnight run before Adult Swim hit the airwaves. This was when you stayed up late, because you knew after the week of G Gundam and Tenchi Muoyo you were gong to get something good, and you were rewarded with anime untouched by 4Kids and taken seriously. Shows like YuYu Hakusho, Knights of the Zodiac and .hack//sign were welcome, along with Gundam Seed after G Gundam had finished. They did meet their fair share of censorship too, but it was mostly the usual DBZ edits: blood was black, etc. etc.. Yet this started a desire for the seriousness anime could provide, and so kids who had never seen Robotech or Akira slowly started to join the otaku generation. The advent of Adult Swim is where, I think, a lot of people started their love of anime, and with early shows like Inuyasha tempting fans to watch the late night blocks, otaku obliged and with good reason. If you ask anyone from this era what anime they would start a new comer on most will answer with one of two things: Cowboy Bebop or Trigun. It's because these shows are good, and have remained good despite the test of time. It was during this time that Evangelion and FLCL made its way to domestic shores as well, and nearly six years later FLCL was finally released as a box set while Evangelion is being remade in theatrical installments. This brings an entirely new set of fans who missed these shows a chance to view them, and yet there is still one largely over looked series among these hits.
It's not about furries, I swear!
Very rarely do I come across the fellow Wolf's Rain fan, despite it being on during the same years as these shows, which is a bit odd really. Stranger still is the person who's never heard of Paranoia Agent, one of Satoshi Kon's later works. What has stuck around the otaku fan circles for years now is Full Metal Alchemist and my oh my has it acquired quite the number of otaku over the years. It showed that even without the touching of 4Kids and by keeping a show pure, it can still remain a hit. It's one of Funimations earliest licensed works, and they still continue to pull in the checks off of its movies and release of the show again through Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood. You can find a good number or people discussing it for its philosophical merits but it also started one of the biggest weeaboo booms ever. It was not a hard series to find subtitled, and once fans discovered they could watch other series, even ones they had never heard about online, the metaphorical pile of crap hit the metaphorical fan. There was more of an appreciation for art quality and story, and less for what it was about. Less gab, more stab, was the general logic. Of course, this meant many shows were released that might not have found their way to shore were it not for the demand of more anime. Some found their way spiraling out of popularity, while others climbed the charts. And others, for all their merits, never found their way over.
Bakemonogatari hasn't been licensed, but oh, the brillaince!
So then, if the otaku is now living in a market saturated with stuff they like, but don't necessarily want, what makes them different from the weeaboo? As I said before, these are the people who want more gab and less stab. With companies like Crunchyroll and Viz offereing the raw product, it is the otaku who is answering the call of fandom. They're the ones out there watching Steins;Gate and Deadman Wonderland. Their devouring the existential crises of Madoka Magika and their revisiting the philosophies of Revolutionary Girl Utena. The weeaboo continues to sit back and cry for more Hetalia and Naruto, thinking they know everything about Japanese culture, ever, from shows like this. Because "Ninjas are sooo kakoii! Dattebayo!" And so I leave you to think about that as you walk around and proudly say you are an otaku. Are you certain you are one and not just one of those weeaboos devouring everything thrown your way from Japan? Be careful of the line all geek culture must walk.

Until Next Time!